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4 Ways to stop having the same old fight

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

How to turn your couple arguments into productive conversations

When you both need to win, you both lose.

The two of you might as well put your disputes on autopilot; no matter what the trigger, the resulting disputes end up sounding exactly the same. Your guy yet again leaving the toilet seat up or you forgetting to mention his cousin called leads to the endless loop of recriminations and grievances you’ve been foisting on each other practically since day one. Since nothing gets resolved, resentments linger, to thus resurface with a vengeance at the next opportunity.

This not-so-merry merry-go-round is exhausting and extremely non-productive. Here’s how to finally jump off.

1. Take a five-second pause before hurling words you will regret

How many times have you uttered, and instantly regretted, the phrase to your partner that you know will be like a red cape to a bull?

Instead, take a deep, relaxing, cleansing breath and ask yourself if you really need to stoop this low? Of course you don’t want to see hurt in your beloved’s eyes, followed by his need to retaliate with the phrase he usually utters to wound you? Take a centering breath and keep the conversation centered on whose turn it is to walk the dog.

2. Ask this question

Instead of countering every word (OK, maybe every other word) of his with, “You never listen,” ask “Why? Why do you feel the way you do?'"

Then listen and recap what he says: “So when this happens, you feel A and B.”  He'll rebut, “Well I do feel A but not B. It's more like C.”

Once he feels you've heard him (notice I didn't say agreed), it’s your turn to express feelings and his to listen and mirror back what he’s heard. Once both of you feel understood, it's possible to reach a new level of communion and communication. Empathy for the other’s position replaces anger and problem solving can begin. Why opens an exploration; You're wrong closes hearts and minds and leads to the endless rounds of attack/counterattack.

3. Have a clown nose handy

Or a mutually agreed upon word or phrase that helps you snap out of momentary but consuming negative emotions to a place of shared laughter. For one couple I counseled, the word “watermelon” brought up memories of a long-ago giggle-filled food 'fight' that served as an instant reminder of how good they were together.

Once the spell of anger and hurt is broken, true listening and resolution of the trigger issue is possible.

4. Be wedded to your mate, not the need to be right

A common phrase asked of me in couples sessions by one and/or both partners is something along the lines of: “Our troubles would be over if only he/she admitted I’m always right.”

When a couple’s dynamic is, “I’m right; you’re wrong,” they are both wrong. And the relationship is the ultimate loser.

Frequently this is a self-esteem issue: If you admit you made a mistake, then you are admitting you are fallible. Feeling fallible can be scary to someone with a fragile ego structure.

Or if you say, “I’m wrong on this one, sorry,” you will lose power. Or if you admit to making a mistake, you are admitting to being a loser.

Regardless, intimacy cannot exist when you need to protect your soft core from your partner. Being vulnerable brings you together; maintaining stubbornness and rigidity is a defense mechanism that distances you from the person you love most in the world.

Think of it this way: If the two of you are in a rowboat and each insists on paddling in opposite directions you will remain stuck in the middle of the lake. If you work together — mutually deciding which way to paddle even if there is a disagreement about the ‘best’ direction to take — the shore will quickly be reached.

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